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Romance and Culture Shock

By Stephanie S. Smith

The question often posed to newlyweds is so obvious it's almost rhetorical: how do you like married life? And in our two months beyond the altar, we've heard this about fifty times and counting.  Much like a recent college graduate who cringes at the question of "what comes next?", we have rehearsed our answer enough that is has become routine.

Do we like being married? No.  We love it!

But when my husband, Zach, put the question to me, I had to be honest. "Married life is great! And...it's like culture shock." We laughed, because we both know what I'm talking about.  Zach is the oldest of three boys, I am the middle of three girls.  Growing up, his dad nicknamed him Spike, mine called me Princess.  The night before our wedding, my bridesmaids and I were sitting cross-legged eating dessert and playing with each other's hair.  Zach and his friends were at the park, leaping over jungle gyms and beating each other with solid wrapping paper tubes.  Need I say more?

Throughout history men and women have been stereotyped for their differences.  Sometimes these differences are laughable, our distinctions acting as a punch line in the drama of life; other times gender differences are just plain exasperating, or even worse, distressing. 

Likewise, culture shock can be both delightful and startling at times.  My new husband and I have just crossed a border.  As we each approach the other in our separate territory, there is a new language, new customs, and a new standard of "normal" to be learned.  While in my home culture a certain behavior might be accepted, here it might cause native offense.  Our marriage is like a foreign alliance, with two separate people coming together and discovering the heritage and history of the other.  But...sometimes you feel like you need a translator!

Author Tim and Joy Downs speak candidly of this navigation of differences in their new book, as the title suggests: One of Us Must be Crazy...And I'm Pretty Sure It's You. The Downs attribute many differences between husbands and wives to having different "dreams", which they describe as "mental images of how our lives are supposed to look and feel." [11] In other words, we all carry expectations into our marriages, and sometimes these expectations do not line up with our spouse's.  There are many resources for conflict in marriage (including Tim and Joy's companion book titled Fight Fair: Winning at Conflict Without Losing at Love), in which one or both parties are wrong and apology and forgiveness are needed for reconciliation. But this book attends to a different question: what happens in a marriage when both husband and wife are right?

Tim and Joy identify seven issues that can act as dreams as well as fuel for conflict when misunderstood: security, loyalty, responsibility, caring, order, openness, and connection.  The Downs discovered that wherever conflict erupted in their own marriage, it was usually over one of these hot-spot issues.  They discovered that all of these qualities are excellent dreams to have, but when Tim and Joy held these dreams in a clashing order of priority, disagreements flared into action.  Over the next two years as the Downs spoke at marriage conferences, they surveyed over a thousand couples which confirmed their initial findings.  These seven issues were an underlying cause in their marital conflict, too.

But if these underlying issues are good qualities in and of themselves, the resolution must look different than confronting a sin-issue in marriage.  If there is selfishness, greed, or pride in a marriage, it must be cut out...but when noble aspirations conflict in a marriage, the husband and wife must learn to dream together.  This is what Tim and Joy focus on in One of Us Must be Crazy...identifying, articulating, and understanding the "dreams" that are important to you and your spouse so that your differences may work in harmony rather than head-on collision. The Downs explain, "Understanding our hidden issues helped us work together as partners instead of battling as foes.  Once we understood each other's dreams...we wanted to help fulfill the other's dreams rather than stubbornly defending our own turf." [18]

What I appreciate about this book is that Tim and Joy do not prescribe easy answers, because there aren't any.  The authors acknowledge the complex dynamics of human relationships in which no 50/50 "compromise" is ever really feasible.  So instead of teaching a 5-steps-to-success program, they tell stories.  Real-life examples, including dialogues and scenarios, from their own marriage and many others expose the underlying issue and then illuminate a way forward. 

In fact, our relational model was never a smooth 50/50 split, but an above-and-beyond giving in the sacrifice of the Savior.  He stepped into our world, crossed all boundaries to be with us, and held nothing back in blessing, serving, and saving His beloved.  He gave everything, and this is Whom we are called to reflect towards our spouse. Tim and Joy encourage the reader to focus on the big picture, "Marriage is the place where we are hammered, molded, and loved into the image of Christ." [163] There is no fool-proof formula for reconciling our differences in marriage, but if we fix our eyes on the Author of Love Himself, we will imitate His way of selflessness, sacrifice, and grace.